Havana: Cuba on Tuesday welcomed the European Union`s decision to try to improve ties as "constructive," but still warned the EU had to be respectful of the Communist nation`s sovereignty.
Cuba "will look at the invitation drawn up by (the EU) in a way that is respectful, constructive and in-line with its sovereignty and national interests," deputy foreign minister Rogelio Sierra said in a statement.
The EU froze relations with Cuba, the Americas` only one-party Communist regime, in 2003 after authorities there threw 75 government opponents behind bars. It resumed contact, however, upon their release in 2008.
At talks in Brussels, foreign ministers from the 28-nation bloc endorsed a negotiating mandate for a political and cooperation agreement that ultimately will open the way also to broader trade and economic ties.
"I hope Cuba will take up this offer, and that we can work towards a stronger relationship," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as ministers green lighted the opening of bilateral talks on a "Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement."
"This is not a policy change from the past," Ashton said. "Just as we want to support reform and modernisation in Cuba, we have consistently raised human rights concerns which will remain at the core of the relationship."
Cash-strapped Cuba is certainly keen to attract foreign investment. But it has shown zero inclination to budge on real, meaningful economic or political opening.
Cuba`s infrastructure is feeble, and it is economically isolated. It depends on its close ally Venezuela for subsidised oil to keep the lights on in a nation of 11 million.
After five decades of the same regime, Havana still has not engaged in major economic openings. It maintains Soviet-style control over the vast majority of the economy -- though it has allowed more self-employment after firing thousands from government jobs.
Shortages are widespread, with most Cubans spending hours a day trying to figure out how to put food on the table; incomes average USD 20 a month. Corruption is a major issue and stealing from the government and tourist facilities such as restaurants is rampant.